October 10, 2011

There aren’t really movie poster “artists” any more.  There are designers, there’s photoshop, there’s loads of posters that are whipped up in the course of a day or perhaps even a few minutes (looking at you X-Men: First Class), but there’s rarely any artistry to them.  Granted, advertising is advertising, but a movie poster can be so much more.  Artist Drew Struzan made them more.  His style put a classic, refined touch to any poster and he’s responsible for the unforgettable one-sheets for geek classics like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, and so much work.  The new book Oeuvre: Drew Struzan collects his movie posters, but what makes it special is how much it offers beyond his well-known work.  The collection of artwork included in Oeuvre will only broaden your knowledge of his work and deepen your love of his art.

Written by Drew and Dylan Struzan, Oeuvre is broken down into five sections: Music, Movies, Publishing, Commerical, and Personal plus a foreward by George Lucas.  The book is not based on how Struzan grew as an artist over the course of his career, and instead focuses on how he approaches every piece of work.  The over-arching theme in his Struzan’s commercial art is in trying not only to capture an entire product, movie, book, etc. into a single image, but to provide a classic sheen.  As Lucas puts in his introduction, “Drew has the talent not only to capture the characters faithfully, but to enrich them with something a little grander, a little more glorious, and more romantic than a photograph could ever convey.”

This sentiment is nowhere more apparent than when Struzan takes the dreaded “floating head” design and somehow makes it feel epic.  Traditionally, slapping the head of a lead actor on a poster is the lazy way to sell a movie.  It ditches the seduction of an image and gets straight to the point: “That actor or actress you like is in this movie.  Buy a ticket.”  But in Struzan’s work, it’s not an ad shortcut.  His work takes us back to a time when the lead actor or their character was larger than life, a time when it wasn’t enough to simply photograph a movie star.  They needed a portrait to convey their majesty.

But Struzan a central image when it comedies or action movies.  The reliance on floating heads never goes away, but they no longer convey the epic but instead emphasize the familial and the friendly.  For a Muppet movie, it lets us know the gang’s all here.  Struzan is also a master at building his design around a single image.  For the Coming to America posters, we see that Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) dominates New York City but the smile on Murphy’s face tells us the character is so good-natured that his size comes not from his royal garb, but from his good-natured confidence.

Finally, the book shows that Struzan’s mastery of color.  Look at a collection of posters from the past ten years and you’ll notice that a fair amount use a blue or orange color scheme.  Obviously, it’s meant to convey “This is movie is cool,” or “This movie is hot,” but like the standard floating head design, it’s worn out and simplistic.  Struzan, on the other hand, always plays to his subject.  His Frankenstein poster features grimy greys, blacks, and whites, and the eye is drawn to the burning windmill, which is the climax of the movie.  His poster for the Special Edition of Star Wars has the black backdrop of space, but we see Luke, Leia, and Han’s faces as if they were lit by the sun, implying that they are the light of hope in the galaxy.

It’s wonderful having all of these unforgettable posters collected in one book, but what tips Oeuvre into something truly special is the final chapter, “Personal Works”.  When a company hires Struzan for one of their products, they expect his particular style.  He has room to play with the particulars, but there’s undeniably a Struzan “look” that the company or individual wants.  “Personal Works” shows he can do so much more and that what we see at the multiplex or on a book cover is only a fraction of his artistic talent.  They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen from Struzan, but he explains that while there may be no cultural reference point, his commercial and personal work “paint the human form for the beauty of it.”

Drew Struzan: Oeuvre is a must-own on any geek’s holiday gift list.  It’s not only a love-letter to his work, but one that provides a greater understanding of it.  Fifty dollars (MSRP) is a small price to pay for a coffee table book filled with gorgeous artwork that recalls the movies you love but also shows Struzan’s talent beyond the well-known poster.  As he says in his introduction to the “Personal Works” chapter,

“I’m trying to take those pure visual experiences and make them very rich, expressing many things in a painting without making it illustrative.  I want the work to come off as powerful and to relate a deep experience to the viewer.”

The work featured in Oeuvre shows that he succeeded.

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